Rejected Again: How to Handle Rejection

The game of life involves more rejections than selections. If you’re always getting chosen, you’re not shooting high enough. You get it. But, rejection still sucks.

I am interviewing for a substantial and pivotal leadership position in my organization. The resumes are piling up fast with qualified candidates. I see the scurry of activity as candidates prepare. They’re doing their homework. Some candidates are those I’ve mentored recently. Others I’ve worked with in the past, or know by reputation. I also have a big pile of attractive “out of the woodwork” resumes filled with strong results and diverse experiences. I anticipate some great interviews. So many qualified candidates, and I get to choose one. Despite their backgrounds and efforts, the rest won’t be selected this time. Some will feel rejected. For those I’m closest to, it may feel personal. It’s not.

Not selected isn’t rejected

This scenario is playing out all over the world. How you handle rejected paves the path to future selection.

4 Ways To Handle Rejected

1. Stop The Negative Self-Talk

The harshest words won’t come from the person doing the rejecting. They’ll likely come from you. Don’t over interpret the “rejection.”

  • “I’m never going to get promoted”
  • “I will never be successful at this company”
  • “I don’t have what it takes”
  • “I don’t know how to play the game”
  • “Maybe I’m not that smart”
  • “It’s too late”
  • “I’m not cut out for this”
  • ?

2. Support the Selected Candidate

Early in my career, I lost out to a colleague for a promotion. Rejection comes early and often. My boss immediately took me aside and said,

“Everyone is going to watch how you react to this. I happen to think you’re the best qualified candidate. We could speculate all day about why he got selected over you. If you need to come into my office and shut the door and say all that crap once you can. But then let it go. Don’t let ANYONE else hear you say it.”

I’ve repeated those words many times over the last 20 years.

Take the high road. Smile. Congratulate. Support their success. Don’t engage with anyone who says, “it should have been you.” Okay, okay your spouse, dog, mentor and coach can know the truth. Be careful.

3. Ask For (and be ready to hear) Feedback

Ask for feedback from your interview and on your qualifications. Ask for straight talk. Be open to hear the reasons.

4. Keep Swimming

It’s natural and tempting to feel defeated. Keep leading. Keep working hard. Keep winning. You will need great results and a strong brand for the next time.

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Posted in Career & Learning, Communication and tagged , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.


  1. Karin,

    Again another great post. It hurts at first when you get the word you weren’t selected. I have found that if you take the high road, and do like you said keep working hard, and not take it personal a BETTER opportunity always presents itself.

  2. Rejection always “feels” personal and it is not easy to digest.

    Fact is, if someone says a “nice” thing to you and a “not nice” thing to you, you only remember the not nice thing.

    So how do we take rejection?

    We see it for what it is and we learn from it.
    Thanks for sharing a great article. Appreciate your wisdom.
    Lead From Within

    • Lolly, Thanks so much for enriching the conversation. I’m guilty of obsessing on the minority negative comment. I think most of us do….

  3. Great article Karin, this is going to be a bookmark!

    I have been rejected by 7 companies in the last 8 months. Top 2 of them being Google and Boston Consulting Group. The worst part is that they never tell you the reason. I feel like the paragon of being a loser. But then again lately I have come to a realization that I won’t be happy until I do something of my own.


    • Rohit, Great to have you join the conversation. It sounds like you have had a really disappointing time… and yet, it also sounds like it’s helping you clarify what it is you most want. Maybe this is a blessing. I have a pod cast brewing about start-ups… perhaps that will be useful. Namaste.

  4. This is great – I remind myself that a “rejection” (which is sometimes not even a ‘no’ but a ‘not now’) is a good thing because it steers us towards the thing that, eventually, WILL work. Even at the absolute worst, a rejection can mean that you now know where you need more work, time to develop.

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